Thursday, September 13, 2007

Now that's fan hatred

When I'm on gaming message boards I always make it a point to read threads with titles like "What's the Stupidest Game You've Ever Read?" I've found a lot of really great stuff tracking down things other people hate. Not because I'm some sort of contrarian, but simply because I seem to take roleplaying a lot less seriously than some folks. One man's stupid is another man's awesome, it seems. That's how I first found out about Under the Storm Giant's Castle.

So I was over at The Acaeum the day before yesterday when I found one of those kinds of threads. I found one great lead on an old third party D&D/Gamma Word/Traveller mash-up of some sort. But what I wanted to talk about today was a fellow named Rick's report on two terrible RuneQuest items. One of them, a city book called Eldarad, had already come up earlier in the thread as an example not of something stupid but rather as just an incredibly pisspoor product. Here's what Rick had to say:

In Germany, we actually burn a copy of Eldarad or Daughters of Darkness at a convention each year, alternating products each year. We've had upwards of 100 people attend the ceremony. We auction off a lighter with an original copy of the module thrown in for free. The book is usually still in the shrink and sold as a fund raiser. The purchaser gets the "honour" of leading the masses to the awaiting torch. We've been doing it since 1996.
Holy crap! Forget all those internet wimps moaning and groaning about 4e or the latest Forgie outrage or whatever. They can't hold a candle to the level of hatred that leads people to actual book burning. I seem to remember a couple other instances of reputed rpg book burning. Was it Donnie Mac talking about the GenCon reception of the Traveller hardcore to TNE. Donnie Mac is the nickname I just made up for Don McKinney. Maybe the D-Mac (another new nickname) will swing by here and tell his tale.

Then there's the Diana Jones Award. I have a lot of respect for the Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming, because it in no way pretends to be "fair" or "democratic" or "reflective of the hobby" or any of that other stuff. I know I'm one of the people who, in the past, routinely criticized the Origins for exactly those reasons, but the Diana Jones folks never made any pretense about their agenda. Their award goes to what they think is excellent, and that's pretty much the whole criteria as far as I can tell. It's elitist. It's a bit pompous. But since you know you're getting pompous elitism, I'm totally onboard for it.But what does it mean?

There is not nor has there ever been a person named Diana Jones associated with this award. The name comes from TSR's old Indiana Jones RPG. According to the founding legend of the Award, back when TSR UK lost the license the stock they had on hand had to be destroyed. Encased in the lucite pyramid are the remains of the last copy they had on hand. Why someone chose to build a memorial to that event remains a mystery to me. Either way, apparently the "In" got burnt off, leaving the words "diana Jones" on one of the remaining pieces of the game. There's also a couple of the infamous Nazi™ stand-up figures. I hate those guys. Trademarked Nazis are the worst.

I've wondered for a long time what is supposed to be signified by using the charred remains of one of TSR's less successful licensed games as an award. Is it a big 'F U!' to TSR? A middle finger raised to corporate non-indie gaming? The Diana Jones people say this:

The Diana Jones committee believes that a trophy that embodies the destruction of the last copy of one of the games industry’s most unloved and least-mourned roducts is a suitable symbol for the aims of the Diana Jones Award.

As a kid I didn't much care for the Indiana Jones RPG. The biggest letdown was that it came with no chargen rules. As written, you were expected to play Indy or Jock or Short Round or one of the other canonical film heroes. My game group rejected the game based upon the simple fact that all of our other TSR games up until that point had driven home the lesson that in roleplaying your were supposed to make up your own PC and only lamers played someone else's character. But I can't help but wonder how grown-up Jeffy would react to rereading a copy and maybe playing a session or two. It might rock on toast for all I know. Any game that promises Nazi™-punching can't be all bad.

Just thinking out loud here, but I also can't help but think that if a Forge darling author came out with a game where everyone was required to play a certain set of characters that it would quite probably be hailed as 'innovative' or at least 'intriguing'. Something like Evil Bob's My Love For You is Way Out Of Line but taken seriously.

And let's get a little perspective here: to consider any TSR game the 'most unloved and least-mourned' is just crazy talk. Comparatively speaking, the print runs were so high on most of TSR's games that there's bound to be at least a few fans of even their crappiest products. To think that something like Indiana Jones is going to be held in lower esteem than truly wretched rpgs like Racial Holy War or FATAL strikes me as just bitter anti-TSR nonsense. There's plenty of things to not like about TSR. To me, the fact that Indiana Jones was subpar doesn't seem to rank that high on a list of them.